Friday, October 05, 2012

Pepper-spraying California taxpayers

UC has reached a $1 million settlement with UC Davis students who were pepper sprayed at an Occupy-inspired Nov. 18 demonstration to protest rising tuition. UC will pay student plaintiffs $30,000 each, and the ACLU will pocket up to $250,000. Everything that is wrong in California resides in this story.

For $30,000, I'll get pepper sprayed.

Students think tuition costs too much, so what do they do? Sue the university - it has deep pockets.

This episode began because students know that if they stood around smoking pot and demanding more money from Sacramento, the administration would be tickled pink. UC brass and students are in complete agreement on this issue. Thus, if students want to get arrested and bask in their fictional oppression, they must set up tents in an illegal encampment or lock arms so that police cannot do their job.

That's what happened at UC Davis. Students surrounded campus cops, who warned students that if they didn't disperse, they would be subject to the use of force and pepper spray.

They stayed. They videotaped. They sued. That's how so-called civil libertarians conquer. They break rules designed not to squelch free speech, but to protect everyone's right to public space. Then they sue, secure in the knowledge that state officials will settle with them.

UC spokesman Steve Montiel explained that the university "estimated it would cost more to take it to trial." It's a class-action lawsuit, so other parties cannot sue.

I see the point. I also believe that UC inevitably will buckle in any case with a "social justice" element. Remember how, lest famished or parched activists fall from a tree, UC Berkeley delivered energy bars and water to tree-sitters who trespassed on campus for two years. At the University of California, there's always a safety net for protest, lawful or otherwise.

These students chose to get arrested - and the pepper spraying was memorialized on camera. Still, UC spent close to $1 million investigating the episode. A task force concluded that the pepper-spraying incident "should and could have been prevented."

The campus police chief and two officers no longer work for UC. Eleven students were treated for the ill effects of pepper spray. The Yolo County district attorney announced last week that no officers will be prosecuted because guilt could not be proved "beyond a reasonable doubt."

In a statement announcing the settlement, the ACLU announced it will use the money "to advocate for free speech rights and other fundamental civil liberties." In other words, university solons have managed to feed the ACLU money to fuel the next legal complaint based on a manufactured violation of free-speech rights.

ACLU attorney Michael Risher counters that the students were breaking a campus rule, not a criminal law. Some suffered "excruciating pain," and they should "get some compensation for that."

The $30,000 payments are close to what it costs to attend UC Davis for a year, Risher added. He'd rather have a system where culpable officials pay damages instead of taxpayers, but "unfortunately, that's not the law."

It might be that UC students have to work to get arrested, he added, but "the folks at segregated lunch counters, they were working to get arrested" too.

No, those civil rights heroes were fighting for equal rights. They had real grievances. African Americans were targets whether they chose to be or not. They weren't privileged recipients of a top-notch university education partially subsidized by California taxpayers.

Risher told me that the lawsuit will improve university policies so that "something like this never happens again."

Of course it will happen again. UC academics encourage students to think of protest as an integral part of a college education. As a result, some students clearly are more interested in a long-term gratifying protest experience than mastery of rich academic content.

UC President Mark Yudof even assigned a university associate vice president to implement a different report on how UC should manage protests. That's her full-time job for a year.

As part of the settlement, Chancellor Linda Katehi will send these students written apologies. Spokesman Barry Shiller wants you to know that Katehi has been apologizing ever since the incident and she's very sincere. Why wouldn't students see themselves as blameless victims who were entitled to break campus rules? There's a $1 million payday to prove it.

The next UC settlement, I think the ACLU should demand that the offending yet craven UC biggie has to clean the protesters' dorm rooms.


New Hampshire school board member calls for end to high school football

Football and boxing are regularly targeted by the do-gooders.  That people may willingly takes health risks is incomprehensible to them  -- and respect for other people's choices is also alien to them

A medical doctor who serves on the board of a New Hampshire school district wants to end the high school's football program over fears that players could suffer concussions that would lead to brain injuries later in life.

Paul Butler, a retired physician and member of the Dover School Board, proposed eliminating football at both the high school and younger levels, telling fellow board members Monday night that the move is crucial for the players' safety, reports

Butler, who played football himself, cited medical evidence that suggests even a single blow to the head can lead to multiple brain injuries, because the impact can cause the brain to rattle around in the skull.

“These people have studied brains [of] football players who have died prematurely and have found, in some of them, significant changes that they have only seen in eighty and ninety-year-olds who have Alzheimer’s,” he told the station.

Butler’s proposal was quickly sacked by parents and other board members who say it would ruin a Dover High School tradition.

Amanda Russell, vice chair at the Dover School Board told the station, “I think the longstanding tradition here in Dover says that football has to stay.”

Athletic Director Peter Wotton said all sports involve a certain amount of risk.

“With every sport we have at some point in time a student athlete gets a concussion,” Wotton said.

Wotton says concussions are taken very seriously at the school, and Dover High School is even partnered with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital in a brain concussion study

Rather than eliminate the sport completely, Board Chairman Rocky D’Andrea said coaches can ensure safety by instilling safer methods in players.

“I’d much rather see them do better job with the coaching and teaching of proper tackling techniques,” D'Andrea said.

The issue will be on the next month’s school board agenda, and Butler vowed to force it to a vote.


Australia:  Students have 'too much choice'

Absolutely typical Leftist authoritarianism.  Government must tell you what to do "for your own good".  Evans is  right that a  vocational focus is often lacking in choice of courses but how people manage their lives should be their choice.  Some may be happy to do arty things in their own time and earn their living in humble ways

TERTIARY Education Minister Chris Evans says the government's $10 billion-a-year student-demand-driven system of allocating places is not working because students have too much choice.

In what amounts to an about-face, Senator Evans told a Future of Work Conference in Sydney yesterday that the system was too driven by student choices.

"We've got lots of students wanting to do gaming design and no one wanting to do IT or computing now, but we've got thousands of jobs in IT and computing, and about three in game design and lots of graduates."

The new student-demand-driven system was introduced earlier this year.

In January, Senator Evans crowed about the massive increase in university offers, saying the government was producing qualifications necessary for the knowledge economy.

"We are opening the doors of our universities and giving more eligible Australians, from all regions and backgrounds, the skills they need to take advantage of the high-skilled, high-paid jobs of the future," he said.

But yesterday Senator Evans said universities were too focused on meeting student demand rather than meeting the needs of employers.

Universities have come under fire for lowering ATAR cut-offs to attract more students, after the federal government removed limits on the number of undergraduates they could take.


Thursday, October 04, 2012

Can U.S. Universities Stay on Top?

India and China are still far behind in elite education, but they are scrambling to catch up

At the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi—one of the best engineering academies in the country—we met Shriram, a 21-year-old man who ranked 19 out of 485,000 on the school's very demanding entrance exam. We call him Mr. Number 19.

Shriram can tell you the date and time when he found out his test results. The exam—and the preparation for it—dominated his teenage years. He was singled out as a "big talent" at an early age, with an aptitude for mathematics and science. To get ready for the IIT entrance exam, he enrolled at a private coaching institute that prepares students with aggressive drilling in the major testing areas—physics, chemistry and math. Over those two years, Shriram estimates that he studied 90 hours every week.

When Shriram arrived at the IIT, he found a class filled with academic superstars. The faculty has high expectations. On the first math exam, his freshman class received an average grade of 30%. Shriram did poorly too but soon bounced back, sacrificing sleep so that he could study. "All my life I wanted to be here," he says. "I knew that if I could go to IIT, major in engineering, work and study hard, my life would be perfect. I would marry a beautiful girl, start a company, help my country advance and deliver on my family's hopes and dreams."

Both India and China have intense national testing programs to find the brightest students for their elite universities. The competition, the preparation and the national anxiety about the outcomes make the SAT testing programs in the U.S. seem like the minor leagues. The stakes are higher in China and India. The "chosen ones"—those who rank in the top 1%—get their choice of university, putting them on a path to fast-track careers, higher incomes and all the benefits of an upper-middle-class life.

The system doesn't work so well for the other 99%. There are nearly 40 million university students in China and India. Most attend institutions that churn out students at low cost. Students complain that their education is "factory style" and "uninspired." Employers complain that many graduates need remedial training before they are fully employable.

For now, the U.S. university system is still far ahead. But over the next decade, there will be a global competition to educate the next generation, and China and India have the potential to change the balance of power. With large pools of qualified students coming of age, the two countries have made reforming their universities a top priority.

How far do they have to go? At the Boston Consulting Group, we have developed a new ranking to determine the educational competitiveness of countries: the BCG E4 Index. It is based on four Es: Expenditure (the level of investment in education by government and private households); enrollment (the number of students in the educational system); engineers (the number of qualified engineers entering the workforce), and elite institutions (the number of top global higher-education institutions).

The U.S. and the U.K. are ranked first and second, driven by raw spending, their dominance in globally ranked universities and engineering graduation rates. China ranks third and India fifth, largely on enrollment (Germany is fourth). The reasons for U.S. supremacy are clear: For one, it spends the most money on education, disbursing $980 billion annually, or twice as much as China and five times as much as India. It is also the most engineer-intensive country, with 981 engineering degrees per million citizens, compared with 553 for China and 197 for India.

American universities currently do a better job overall at preparing students for the workforce. The World Economic Forum estimates that 81% of U.S. engineering graduates are immediately "employable," while only 25% of Indian graduates and 10% of Chinese graduates are equally well prepared. "Chinese students can swarm a problem," a dean at a major Chinese university told us. "But when it comes to original thought and invention, we stumble. We are trying hard to make that up. We are trying to make technical education the grounding from which we solve problems."

In China, Peking University, founded in 1898, is generally ranked as the country's top school. One student there told us in a very serious tone: "Good luck finding a place in the library. You can't find a seat even at three in the morning."

Peking University is now part of an effort launched in 2009 to create a Chinese counterpart to the Ivies—called the C9 League. The objective is to attract the best graduates and faculty with an array of super-funded institutions. The schools recently received $270 million each in government funding, and they are also drawing back "sea turtles"—Chinese Ph.D.s from abroad—to lead the renaissance, with relocation bonuses as high as $150,000.

Though the C9 schools have the greatest potential to break into the global elite, Chinese officials also identified 100 key universities at the next level, where they have invested a total of $2.8 billion.

The difference in student quality between these tiers is often insignificant. The Gaokao is China's national educational test, given to 10 million secondary students to determine their rank and placement at university. The top scorers become national celebrities. But critics say that the test's emphasis on memorization, fact recall and processing speed can determine college admissions too arbitrarily. "I did not feel well the day of the test," one recent graduate told us. "As a result I placed in the top 10%, not good enough to get into the C9. I felt like my life was over."

Compared with China, India has farther to go. A senior dean at IIT Delhi said that he deals daily with shortages of equipment, poor pay for teachers and quotas that sometimes put students who can't read or speak English in the classroom. (The quotas are meant as a remedy for the caste system.) "We are underfunded, we have too few Ph.D.s on faculty, and we have a fifth of our enrollment taken by quota with no remedial programs," he lamented in his hot, open office.

One of the reasons for the underfunding is the relative weakness of India's central government, which accounts for only 15% of total expenditure on education. The 28 states that account for the balance vary greatly by wealth and infrastructure. But unlike China, India has significant private education, with nearly 200,000 private schools and 17,000 private colleges. The World Bank and private investors are pouring billions of dollars into education there, and the government plans to expand its best-known universities, as well as community colleges. The current five-year plan proposes higher-education investments of more than $18 billion.

Even with the current push, the combined higher-education resources of India and China will just begin to match the $32 billion endowment of Harvard alone. But success in these countries is based as much on attitude as on funds. The IIT's Mr. Number 19 represents a generation of driven, talented students who are intent on improving their lives. In one student's room at Peking University, the commitment to advancement is summed up with a phrase on a poster board: "If you work hard enough, you can grind an iron rod into a needle."


Rise in British tuition fees puts 30,000 off university: Shortfall could cost colleges hundreds of millions

The number of students starting university has slumped by around 30,000 following the imposition of £9,000-a-year tuition fees.

The disclosure will fuel claims that the Coalition Government’s steep rise in maximum fees from £3,375 a year is deterring many youngsters from taking degree courses.

The shortfall of 28,634 students on last year is also set to cost universities hundreds of millions of pounds in lost fees and force the closure of struggling courses.

If overseas students from outside the European Union were stripped out of the data, the decline would be even sharper.

Demand for UK university places from home undergraduates and students from the EU – many of whom faced a near-tripling in tuition fees – has plummeted by 50,000.

Universities offset this to some extent by boosting their intake of students from outside the EU, whose fee levels are largely unchanged on last year.

The Universities UK group said more institutions had attempted to attract students through the post A-level results ‘clearing’ service than ever before.

‘Although there was much anticipation and trepidation in the run up to clearing this year, it has proved a real success,’ it said.

‘More institutions have entered clearing than in any other year.’

Figures from the UCAS university admissions service, cited by UUK, show that the number of students accepted through clearing rose by around 2,500.

Many elite universities used the system for the first time in years, partly due to an unexpected drop in the number of top grades at A-level this summer.

Reports also emerged of lower-ranking universities enrolling teenagers onto courses with as little as two E grades at A-level, prompting claims that ill-prepared youngsters were being ‘set up to fail’.

The UCAS figures also show that more than 187,000 candidates who made initial university applications ended up without places.

Admissions tutors say that many of these students - who were officially eligible for clearing - simply never materialised.

It is thought many fired off applications and only then began to fully understand the costs involved and failed to take the process forward.

Of the 187,000, 16,000 formally withdrew their applications, giving an increase in withdrawals of nearly 1,800 on last year.

The data will prompt universities to carefully consider their fee levels for future years.

Controversial Coalition reforms allowed them to raise maximum annual charges this year from £3,375 to £9,000, although no money has to be paid upfront.

While headline fees for 2013/14 have already been decided, universities may be tempted to offer more generous bursaries or fee discounts.

In its analysis, UUK, which represents the executive heads of the country’s universities, said the reasons for the decline in acceptances this year - which amounts to about 6 per cent of last year’s 486,917 crop of students - were ‘complex’.

Researchers said the trend was partly driven by youngsters who applied for degree courses last year cancelling plans for gap years to avoid being liable for higher fees due to kick in this autumn.

There had also been a fall in the population of 18-year-olds following a dip in the birth rate.

But higher fees are still estimated to have put off an estimated 15,000 18-year-olds, and unknown numbers of older students.

‘UUK will continue to monitor closely how the picture evolves and the impact on institutions,’ it said.

In the final few hours of UCAS vacancy listings yesterday, more than 20,000 courses across UK universities and colleges still had available places.

These included several top universities such as York, Lancaster and Leicester. Some universities, mainly former polytechnics, still had vacancies on 200 or more courses.

While the course vacancy search has now closed, would-be freshers still have until October 22 to contact universities directly if they wish to inquire about available places.

The decline in acceptances prompted a leading headmaster to warn that British universities were seeing a worsening ‘brain drain’ to U.S. institutions.

'A number of factors - financial, educational, cultural - have come together to persuade some of the great talents of this generation to seek their fortune in the U.S.'

‘We are seeing the end of the inexorable rise in numbers going to universities in the UK.

‘A number of factors - financial, educational, cultural - have come together to persuade some of the great talents of this generation to seek their fortune in the U.S.

‘As numbers fall here all but the most selective UK universities will lower their offers as they seek to fill places. The consequences are predictable.’


Australia:  The dumb teacher problem

Getting someone to stand up in front of an undisciplined rabble of a class is such an unappealing prospect in Australia and America today that education departments often have to take almost anyone who will do it.  The teachers' colleges would be amost  empty if high standards were required for admission

The nation's elite universities warn that Australia is at risk of training a generation of "toxic teachers" who will pass their own deficiencies at school on to their students.

The executive director of the Group of Eight research-focused universities, Michael Gallagher, said Australia was "at risk of producing a cohort of "toxic teachers".

"The next generation of teachers is being drawn from this pool" of people "who have themselves not been very successful at school," he said.

Much of the growth in teaching enrolments since 2007 has come from school leavers with scores in the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) range of 50 to 70, prompting the NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, to start a debate about minimum education standards for teachers. At present, some 20 per cent of teaching enrolments have an ATAR of less than 60.

The Australian Catholic University vice chancellor, Greg Craven, however, has warned any attempt to set minimum standards for entry into teaching courses, such as an ATAR of 70, would be an attack on universities' independence and encounter stiff resistance. He accused the NSW government of dishonesty, hypocrisy, cowardice and blame shifting in its effort to start a debate about teaching standards.

In a speech to be delivered at the National Press Club today, Professor Craven will criticise Mr Piccoli's July discussion paper, Great Teaching, Inspired Learning, for fudging the figures around the demand for permanent teachers, lamenting teacher quality while paying them so little, failing to confront teacher unions over work practices that protect low performance, and attempting to shift blame to universities.

Professor Craven takes particular issue with the assertion that NSW has "a gross oversupply" of teachers.

The NSW discussion paper says although about 5500 teachers graduate each year, only 300 to 500 of them are employed in permanent positions by the NSW Education Department.

This not only omits teachers employed in the large Catholic and independent school systems but hides the reality that "the department itself deliberately has casualised its workforce, so new teachers overwhelmingly go into 'casual positions' that actually may be full time", Professor Craven said.

About 30,000 casual teachers deliver about 2 million days of teaching in NSW a year.

He said ATAR scores were skewed against people from low socio-economic backgrounds and failed to predict success at university.

"What really matters is the quality of a student once they have completed their university degree, not when they enter it … Trying to determine who should be a teacher on the basis of adolescent school marks rather than practical and theoretical training received during their course is like selecting the Australian cricket team on school batting averages while ignoring Sheffield Shield innings", Professor Craven said.

The president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Maurie Mulheron, said: "You can't talk about high teaching standards and professional respect at the same time you are pulling $1.7 billion out of public education".

Mr Piccoli is overseas and unavailable for comment, but a spokesman for the NSW Department of Education defended the discussion paper.

He said university training of teachers was only one of five areas it examined, but acknowledged there is wide variation in the ATAR scores of undergraduates.

"The issues of further improving teacher performance and how to even more effectively deal with those who consistently fail to meet the required professional standards are raised by the paper," he said.


Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Communism on Parade? High School Marches to Marx and Lenin

“What do you think of this?” So began a phone call from Todd Starnes of FoxNews radio. Starnes asked me for a comment on a shocking story: A band at a high school near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania performed a halftime show titled, “St. Petersburg 1917,” a musical commemoration of the Bolshevik Revolution, replete with hammers and sickles, military uniforms, and red flags.

“No way,” I responded. “Are you sure this wasn’t a joke, a parody?”

It wasn’t. And parents of the students aren’t laughing.

The superintendent of the school genuinely pleaded innocence. “It’s a representation of the time period in history, called ‘St. Petersburg 1917,’” she said. “I am truly sorry that somebody took the performance in that manner. I am.” She continued: “If anything is being celebrated it’s the music…. I’m just very sorry that it wasn’t looked at as just a history lesson.”

Well, as a history lesson, I give it a giant, red “F.”

To be fair to the superintendent, she sincerely doesn’t seem to understand what’s so bad about this incident, and why it’s in bad taste. In fact, therein is the basic problem: We have failed to teach the horrors of the Bolshevik Revolution specifically and of communism generally.

Those horrors include over 100 million corpses generated by communist governments, starting with the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917—that is, “St. Petersburg 1917.” For perspective, 100 million is twice the combined deaths of World War I and II, the two deadliest conflicts in history. Even then, 100 million dead, which is the estimate provided by the seminal Harvard University Press work, “The Black Book of Communism,” is a conservative figure. The latest research claims that Mao Tse-Tung was responsible for the deaths of at least 70 million in China, and Joseph Stalin alone may well have killed 60 million in the USSR.

And yet, far too many American are ignorant of this catastrophe, especially younger Americans. I know. I’ve been observing it carefully for years. I could give a thousand examples, but here are just a few:

One former student of mine, John, told me about his first assignment as a teaching assistant in a high-school history class. He offered to cover some of the lectures on the 1930s Soviet Union. His supervising teacher agreed. So, John methodically covered the famine in the Ukraine, Stalin’s purges, the Hitler-Stalin Pact.

John was pleased at how the students were electrified, hands in the air, many questions—clearly learning these hideous things for the first time. Yet, he also noticed the dirty looks from his supervisor. Later, the teacher testily reprimanded him: “Look, John, I want you to ease up on the Red-baiting and commie-bashing. Besides, these students are going to get a decidedly different view on communism from me.” She promised to teach “a softer side of communism.”

Another student of mine, Sean, told me of the elite Christian private school he attended, where the newly hired teacher, fresh out of a major university, told the students he was a “Christian communist,” and that anyone who is a Christian should be a communist.

Another student told me of a teacher who “convinced the entire class” that Marxism was a “wonderful” but “misunderstood” idea that simply had not been tried correctly. “He absolutely brainwashed us,” she told me bitterly.

These are merely three anecdotal examples.

What’s true for high schools is even worse at the university level. I lecture around the country, sponsored by groups like the Young America’s Foundation and Intercollegiate Studies Institute. I’m often requested to give a talk titled, “Why Communism is Bad.” When I read passages directly from the “Communist Manifesto,” or when I cite authoritative sources on the maimed and dead, the students are aghast, eyes wide open. Rarely are their professors in attendance.

Those same professors, incidentally, write the textbooks used by high schools. Several years ago, I did a comprehensive, two-year study on “World History” and “Civics” texts. The study looked at roughly 20 texts used in public schools. Their treatment of communism is scandalous. The greatest abuse is the sins of omission. I could not find a single text that listed figures on the dead under communist governments. These omissions were not repeated for historical abuses like the Inquisition, the Crusades, slavery, or the internment of Japanese Americans. “Right-wing” dictators like Cuba’s Batista and Chile’s Pinochet were treated far more harshly than Fidel Castro, who generated many more victims and was still in power.

I could go on and on.

In short, we now have an entire generation of Americans born after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and USSR. They didn’t live through the mass repression and carnage that was Soviet communism. They need to learn about it, just as my generation learned the evils of Nazism. Unfortunately, they are not. And so, we shouldn’t be surprised when they merrily march to the triumphal sounds of the Bolshevik Revolution.


Honey, I shrank the schools

In broke Britain

Canteens, corridors and assembly halls are to be 15 per cent smaller under government plans to slash building costs for a new generation of ‘shrunken’ schools, it was claimed last night.

The proposal will see 261 schools rebuilt over the next five years, with each designed to be £7million cheaper to construct than those built under Labour.

The £55billion Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme was launched by the last Government, but postponed by Education Secretary Michael Gove in 2010 amid criticism of soaring costs and lengthy delays.

Critics have said building smaller schools would create congestion in corridors and may even lead to poorer discipline and bullying.

But others have welcomed the Coalition’s approach, saying that Labour’s programme had wasted money on extravagant designs.

Peter Lauener, chief executive of the Government’s Education Funding Agency, which drew up the new designs, said architects had included too many ‘fripperies’ in the last generation of schools.

‘If you have shares in atriums, sell,’ he said. ‘More for less is the theme of what we are trying to do with education capital. We are looking to come out with an average school building cost of under £14million compared to £21million under the BSF programme.

‘It is not quite buy one, get one free. It is a three-for-two proposition.’ 

Builders said the Coalition is ‘shopping at Tesco’ while Labour was ‘shopping at Selfridges’.

The building programme was launched by Labour in 2003 with the aim of rebuilding or redeveloping each of England’s 3,500 secondary schools over 15 years.  But in the first four years only 42 of the first wave of 200 schools were completed, and auditors warned that the programme was likely to run over budget by £1billion a year.

The plans are due to be announced this week, according to the Guardian.

Classroom sizes are expected to be maintained, so the squeeze will bite disproportionately on other areas, builders said.

‘One of the problems with the new model is that it may be a little tight on area,’ one contractor told the Guardian.

Teaching unions criticised the move and said communal areas are vital to the way schools run.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘The spaces outside the classroom are vital to the culture and climate of a school and to have well-ordered corridors is key.

‘In a secondary school there are potentially 1,000 pupils changing lessons at exactly the same time and if corridors are narrow it will lead to them bumping into one another and that could lead to discipline problems.’

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the cuts to space would ‘reduce the standards of learning in our schools and damage the working environment.’

The Royal Institute of British Architects said the policy could undermine the Government’s attempts to improve value for money by making school buildings available for community use.

But a headteacher at one of the country’s most improved schools defended the plan.

Liam Nolan, head of Perry Beeches Academy in Birmingham, said: ‘I know it is not buildings that make a successful school.  ‘In April 2007, when I first walked through the doors of Perry Beeches, the £20million school building was barely seven years old, designed with state of the art techniques and maintained at huge cost. But I was entering one of the worst performing schools in the UK.’


Australia:  Hysteria over school shooting lessons

STATE school students as young as 12 have their sights trained on high school shooting classes after a "curriculum" review by Education Queensland.

This is despite a risk assessment document that found student participation in rifle and pistol shooting was an "extreme risk" with a "high chance of serious incident resulting in highly debilitating injury".

And the Queensland Police Union has slammed the move, warning that the policy could lead to "another Columbine" shooting spree.

Education Queensland's Curriculum Activity Risk Assessment document approves the involvement of state high school students in shooting lessons, provided instructors are fully qualified and facilities and equipment are up to standard.

It's mandatory for students to receive one-on-one supervision from licensed shooters in their first three shooting classes, followed by an encouraged ratio of one to six thereafter.

Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers said students' access to weapons would desensitise them to the "extreme dangers of guns" resulting in a "sure-fire recipe for death and disaster".

"Police don't want another Columbine High School massacre in a Queensland school like we've seen in the United States which could well be an inevitability of this policy," he said.

"It seems Education Queensland think the three R's stand for reading, writing and reloading.

"This crazy policy will see students more heavily armed than school-based police officers who ironically are not allowed to carry their firearms in schools under an agreement with Education Queensland."

An Education Queensland spokeswoman said there was no centralised list of schools which took part in a shooting program and did not answer questions relating to when the risk assessment was first raised or what schools were involved.

Assistant Director-General Marg Pethiyagoda said shooting was an Olympic sport and was able to be offered under "strict supervision".

"Schools determine what extracurricular activities are offered to their students from term to term and school principals are required to ensure all relevant regulations and health and safety guidelines are adhered to," her statement said.

"Any school which chooses to offer shooting as an extracurricular activity must have formal consent from the parents of participating students.

"The department is not aware of any state schools offering shooting as an extracurricular activity."

Shooting programs are not new to private schools. St Joseph's Nudgee College uses its own rifle range and others such as Redlands College and Concordia Lutheran College are involved in programs.

School army cadets also have involvement in shooting programs.

Queensland Target Sports and Queensland Shooting Association spokesman Rex Wigney encouraged more schools to get involved and said it was one of the safest sports for children, who could progress to Olympic level.

Queensland Teachers' Union deputy general secretary Greg Purches said the QTU would be "very reluctant" in encouraging school involvement. "I can't think of many more dangerous things," he said.

Queensland Secondary Principals' Association president Norm Fuller said he didn't want schools or students involved in a shooting program.

Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens' Association president Margaret Leary said she didn't have a problem with schools taking up shooting programs, so long as parents were informed about the risks.

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said it was up to schools to decide what extracurricular activities they offered to students.


Tuesday, October 02, 2012

NAACP lawyers condemn selection test for elite NYC High Schools

It seems to be grievance only behind the assertions below.  From Wikpedia we read:
Bronx Science has received international recognition[5] as one of the best[6] high schools in the United States, public or private, ranking in the top 100 in U.S. News and World Report's lists of America's "Gold-Medal" high schools in 2008 and 2009. It attracts an intellectually gifted blend of culturally, ethnically, and economically diverse students from New York City. As of 2012, Bronx Science is ranked as one of the "22 top-performing schools" in America on The Washington Post as well as number 50 out of a list of the best 1,000 high schools in the country on The Daily Beast's "America's Best High Schools" list.

Every year almost all Bronx Science graduates go on to four-year colleges; many attend Ivy League and other prestigious schools. Bronx Science has counted 132 finalists in the Intel (formerly Westinghouse) Science Talent Search, the largest number of any high school. Seven graduates have won Nobel Prizes – more than any other secondary education institution in the United States and the world — and six have won Pulitzer Prizes. The seven Nobel Laureates have earned Bronx Science a designation by the American Physical Society as a "Historic Physics Site" in 2010.

Clearly, the selection test is BRILLIANT at picking out high-ability kids.  It is therefore hard to see the comments below as anything but hate-motivated.  The comments are certainly not fact-motivated

Picture this: You’ve worked hard all of your life. You have the grades and academic awards to prove it. You are recognized as one of the best students in your peer group. And you have the chance to apply for an educational opportunity that could change your life. But getting this opportunity requires that you take a test. No other factors matter.

Yet it turns out that this test has never been shown to actually measure whether you are qualified for that big opportunity, and it certainly doesn’t take into account all the work you have done.

In fact, it seems that the test does not predict anything — aside, that is, from who can do well on the test. Now imagine that you miss out on that opportunity despite all your hard work only because you did not get a high enough score.

That’s the sad reality for too many New York City middle school students who take the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test each year in hopes of securing a coveted slot in elite high schools such as Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech.

And, to make matters worse, under the current policy, a student’s score on the SHSAT is the only factor that determines whether he or she will be admitted to one of the city’s eight specialized high schools (there’s one more, the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, that does not require an exam).

You could cure Alzheimer’s, and it wouldn’t increase your chances of getting into Stuyvesant.

Educational experts agree that there is a limit to what any single factor can predict about a person’s academic promise; this is especially true for a test that has not been shown to predict success at the schools for which it is being used as an entrance exam.

The nation’s selective colleges have recognized this. No Ivy League school would ever base admissions solely on the SAT. In fact, some college admissions offices have eschewed standardized test scores altogether, recognizing how little they matter and how little they tell.

And plenty of selective high schools in New York — including the two Bard Early College high schools in Manhattan and Queens — use some combination of grades, test scores and other factors to assess whether applicants should be given admission. And these schools do a better job of enrolling classes that are academically strong and broadly diverse.

Still, the DOE has maintained the test-only admissions policy for the specialized high schools for decades.

That policy has a disproportionate impact on African-American and Latino youth. Only 5% of the 6,382 African-American students who took the fall 2011 SHSAT were offered admission to a specialized high school for the 2011-12 school year. Of the 6,143 Latino students who took the test, only 6.7% were offered admission. Last year, out of the 976 students admitted to Stuyvesant, only 19 were African-American and 32 were Latino.


British school bans parents watching sports day without criminal record check

A school has banned parents from watching their children take part in sports events - unless they pass a criminal records check.

The Isambard Community School in Swindon, Wilts., insists all parents must clear a Criminal Records Bureau check to weed out potential paedophiles.

Neil Park, 54, was furious when he was turned away from watching his son George, 12, play rugby.

The father-of-five said: "I was turned away from the school because I had not been CRB checked.

"I couldn't believe it. Government guidelines state that parents are allowed to watch games.

"But any strangers can be questioned and requested to show the appropriate paperwork, which is fair enough.

"George was really upset by it all. What are they going to stop you going to next? Parents' evening? The school play?

"Or what if England under 16s are playing at the County Ground , will they ask all fans there to be CRB checked?"

The school introduced the new measure at the start of the term to prevent strangers from accessing other parts of the school from the playing fields.

A spokesman said: "It is with regret that from now on we will be unable to accommodate parents wishing to spectate at our sports fixtures unless they are in possession of an up-to-date Swindon Council CRB check.

"At Isambard we take safeguarding very seriously and because of this we are unable to leave gates open for access to sporting venues at anytime during the school day.

"The current access arrangements are frustrating for both Isambard staff and parents and have recently resulted in reception staff and PE staff being on the receiving end of verbal abuse from parents who have become frustrated trying to get into or out of the school."

Other schools in the area have no plans to implement this new policy however.

Clive Zimmerman, head at Lydiard Park Academy, Swindon, said: "We don't have that policy here because there are always staff supervising the children.

"We think it is important that parents can support their children.

"We had our inaugural hockey game at the Link Centre this week, and half of that stadium was filled with parents which is fantastic."


Australia:  Police to be based at Queensland high schools to steer teens from crime

This is a disgrace.  There was none of this in Australia when schools had effective disciplinary powers

POLICE will be stationed in a third of Queensland's state high schools to steer out-of-control children away from a lifetime of crime.

Fifteen schools that together had more than 4400 suspensions and almost 100 expulsions in one year have been hand-picked to have a police officer based within school grounds from next year as part of an LNP election promise.

The plan to rid schools of crime and violence will increase police numbers in schools to 50, with officers working across 56 of the 180 state high schools in the state.

"Violence has been out of control and criminals are getting younger and younger, and boosting school-based police numbers provides a vital bridge for potential young offenders to ensure we permanently steer them away from a lifetime of crime," Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers told The Sunday Mail.

"It's all about early intervention."

Schools to get police include Brisbane, Nambour, Glenmore, Pioneer, Gladstone, Bowen, Sandgate, Southport, Toowoomba Locker District and Trinity Bay state high schools and Upper Coomera, Flagstone, Brisbane Bayside and Bentley Park state colleges.

Education Queensland figures show Bentley Park State College in Cairns, a school of more than 1600 students, had 19 expulsions, 377 short suspensions (1-5 days) and 93 long suspensions (6-20 days) in 2010-11.

This was compared with Brisbane State High School, with more than 2100 students, which had fewer than five expulsions, 40 short suspensions and 29 long suspensions.

"The School Based Policing Program is an effective crime prevention strategy that aims to keep students in school," Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said.

"School-based police officers promote positive relationships between young people and police, and play an important role in addressing the issue of violence in schools."


Monday, October 01, 2012

Atheists Sue Over 10 Commandments Display at PA Middle School & Demand it Not Be Moved to Private Church Property‏ (!)

The Ten Commandments are under fire, once again, as the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a church-state separatist group, is taking yet another school system to court. This time, it’s the Connellsville Area School District in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, that has caught the ire of secularists who are suing to have a display featuring the biblical code of conduct taken down.

The lawsuit, which the FFRF filed on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, was waged on behalf of an unnamed parent and child (referred to as Doe 4 and Doe 5). Doe 4 is purportedly a student at the junior high school.

The focus of the complaint is a six-foot stone monument that is displayed at the Connellsville Junior High School. According to the FFRF and its clients, the structure violates the First Amendment, so they are asking the court to order that it be removed from the school’s property.

The FFRF offers more about the monument and the case at hand:

    "The monument, which is between 5 and 6 feet tall, is near the main entrance by the Junior High auditorium. When the Fraternal Order of Eagles donated the monument in 1957, the building was the high school.

    The complaint states that the continued presence of the Ten Commandments on district property is an unconstitutional advancement and endorsement of religion. The complaint also notes that the display “lacks any secular purpose,” citing Stone v. Graham, a 1980 Supreme Court decision which ruled the Ten Commandments may not be posted in public school classrooms, because “The pre-eminent purpose“ for doing so ”is plainly religious in nature.”

The Post-Gazette adds even more about the ongoing debate over the symbol:

    "The foundation and district had been in talks that led to a tentative decision to remove the monument to the grounds of a nearby church. But the district put that action on hold Sept. 12 when members of the public demanded that the monument be retained.

    According to the lawsuit in U.S. District Court, an unidentified district student who is non-religious and the student‘s unidentified parent who is an atheist felt excluded because of the monument’s presence on school grounds".

However, as notes, they’re also asking that it not be allowed to be placed at a nearby church. Nearby Connellsville Church of God has become a focus of the debate due to its location, which would still place the symbol in view of students attending the school.

According to Pittsburgh attorney Marcus B. Schneider, who is working with the FFRF on the case, students who play athletics on the school’s fields “cannot avoid” the Ten Commandments.

While the school district made previous attempts to cover up the monument, the efforts were unsuccessful and atheists decided to take to the courts to solve the matter.


Mike Adams mocks some sickening "diversity" drivel

Dianne Harrison is the new president of California State University, Northridge (CSUN). It’s a small college in the Golden State but it sure is loaded with diversity. How do I know? Because Dianne has written a letter to the entire university, telling everyone how diverse they are and, more importantly, what a great person she is because she loves diversity. In her short email of around 800 words she refers to diversity no less than 17 times.

Because it is so dripping with Orwellian double-speak, I thought it would be fun to reproduce it here. I thought it would be even more fun to include some of my sarcastic observations between each paragraph. President Harrison’s words are in italics. Mine are in a font called Times New Heavy Sarcasm. I sincerely hope you all enjoy my diverse observations and that you all enjoy them in your own diverse ways!

In the almost six weeks since I arrived on campus I have felt warmly welcomed by staff, faculty, and students. I look forward to meeting and getting to know many more of you as we quickly approach the fall semester

It’s good that President Harrison was greeted warmly by all the students. History has shown that when miscommunications occur between Presidents named “Harrison” and various ethnic minorities there can often be conflicts and even bloodshed. Remember Tippecanoe? Unfortunately, CSUN does not have a Native American Studies program. I am told they thought about it but they had their reservations. Fortunately, though, CSUN is planning an M.A. program in Intercultural Communications. There will be more on that later.

Since my arrival I have grown to appreciate even more the many strengths of this university I now call home. Anticipating much busier days ahead, I want to take the opportunity now during the relative quiet of the summer months to offer just a few initial thoughts and impressions, and specifically share some of my observations about the extraordinary diversity that exists on this campus.

Personally, I thought this statement was highly discriminatory. Obviously, blind people cannot see diversity and deaf people cannot hear it. Does that mean they don’t appreciate diversity? Clearly, CSUN needs to develop programs in Blind Studies and Deaf Studies. Queerer things have happened in the world of diversity.

As I began to acquaint myself more fully with the history and present strengths of CSUN, I was struck by the depth of this diversity. I read with interest the rich history of activism for civil rights surrounding the early founding of our Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and the Chicana/o Studies and Pan-African Studies programs. Presently, there exists no true majority race or ethnicity on this campus—the traditional census categories simply do not describe our community.

That’s good news, isn’t it? If there is no majority then there can be no oppression at the hands of the majority. So maybe we can stop talking about race. And since there is so much diversity that most people cannot be confined to traditional categories we can just do away with affirmative action.

I have become more familiar with our degree programs in Deaf Studies, Asian American Studies, Queer Studies, Central American Studies, Jewish Studies, Spanish-Language Journalism, Languages and Cultures, Teaching English as a Second Language, and more.

Ever responsive to the changing needs of the community and the global landscape, we are introducing new programs like the planned M.A. in Intercultural Communications and minor in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. And I am proud to have learned that for 27 years we have hosted the International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, the largest of its kind in the world. Our commitment to supporting students of all backgrounds is demonstrated well by our extraordinary National Center on Deafness (NCOD) which enrolls the largest number of deaf students of any mainstream university in the U.S. I was also fascinated to learn that we educate the largest number of Armenian students outside the nation of Armenia.

Oops! They already have Deaf Studies. But why is there no CSUN Blind Studies program? And why isn’t this in their vision statement!

Before arriving on campus I was impressed to read that CSUN ranks 10th in the U.S. in bachelor’s degrees awarded to under-represented students. I was further impressed that CSUN is 5th in the U.S. and 1st in California for bachelor’s degrees and 10th nationally for master’s degrees awarded to Hispanic students—graduates who are now making an impact in California and beyond.

I have one quick question before we proceed: if “the traditional census categories” do not accurately describe your student population, then how did you accurately measure under- representation?

Student organizations on campus include nearly every cultural group imaginable and a growing number of international students have chosen to study at Cal State Northridge. Certainly the definition of diversity at Cal State Northridge has expanded to include world cultures.

That’s a start. But many people in California are so crazy they think they are from other planets. Should we not expand our notion of diversity to other worlds as well?

I could go on and on. In short, CSUN is a university where diversity abounds, and in diverse ways! This is a university that offers diversity, values diversity, and thrives on diversity. The education offered our students in the classroom is amplified by the cultural competency nurtured from having studied, worked, played, and lived with students who bring an array of differences to the experience. Our students also benefit from studying and interacting with a diverse group of faculty, staff, and administrators. Students leave Cal State Northridge ready and able to succeed in a diverse world, with the preparation and skills so necessary in today’s global economy and multicultural society.

Yes, I know you could go on and on, sister. But mentioning diversity seven times in one paragraph was enough. Could you maybe wrap things up pretty soon? I have to clean my assault rifle before my girlfriend is finished cooking my supper. Then, I have to finish reading The Bridges of Madison County.

Clearly, diversity at Cal State Northridge is celebrated, nurtured, and held as a central and core value. I have seen that the CSUN community takes pride in the diversity of its students, staff, and faculty. While diversity inevitably yields conflicting views, this is no excuse for delegitimizing or dehumanizing others. Likewise, actions such as discrimination, harassment, and the expression of bigotry are abhorrent and threaten our core values—we simply do not tolerate them. This is essential to ensuring that Cal State Northridge is and remains a safe and productive learning and working environment. As your president, I am responsible for ensuring this.

It is good to know that you will not tolerate intolerance – especially when it comes to dehumanizing others. Maybe I could visit your campus with some pictures of aborted babies. If someone in Women’s Studies denies their humanity, will the Office of Equity and Diversity step in and investigate?

The university has procedures and due process in place for investigating and dealing with all complaints of discrimination and harassment, and I want to make sure that our entire community is aware that this university takes seriously all such allegations. On this campus, the Office of Equity and Diversity is specifically designated to receive complaints of discrimination and harassment based on protected categories. Additionally, any supervisor or faculty member can receive such allegations and should engage the Office of Equity and Diversity for further assistance. This extends to all students, all employees, all visitors, anyone who is part of our community.

This is odd. The Office of Equity and Diversity is designed to receive complaints, but only if someone is in a protected category? Is this discriminatory? And why is it necessary in the context of race if, “there exists no true majority race or ethnicity” at CSUN?

I am excited to be here at Cal State Northridge. I sincerely appreciate our diverse learning and working environment and our community where differences are celebrated. We all have opportunities to learn from, be challenged by, and enjoy others whose life experiences can enrich our own. I look forward to meeting and getting to know more of you, learning from you, and working collaboratively to enrich the incredible assets that CSUN has to offer.

That all sounds wonderful. But wouldn’t the environment be better if you weren’t obsessed with identity politics? Wouldn’t things be more diverse if people in the institution weren’t repeating the same words over and over again?


Head attacks muddle-headed attempt to get more of "the poor" into British universities

Christopher Ray, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents more than 250 top independent schools, said that the use of “positive discrimination” in the admissions system risked acting against pupils from the fee-paying sector.

Currently, universities are expected to draw up targets to boost the number of pupils admitted from state schools and poor families.

But Dr Ray, High Master of Manchester Grammar School, said the process was not sophisticated enough to take account of pupils from selective state grammar schools or comprehensively-educated teenagers sent to private tutors by their parents.

The system also risks overlooking the thousands of pupils from the poorest families given bursary places at independent schools, he said.

The comments come amid continuing concerns over the use of “social engineering” in university admissions.

All institutions in England are expected to draw up “access agreements” setting out measures designed to create a more balanced student body in return for the power to charge up to £9,000 tuition fees.

As part of the document, they must set targets to boost participation rates among pupils from state schools, deprived families and neighbourhoods with a poor track record of higher education.

Prof Les Ebdon, the head of the Government’s Office for Fair Access, has told leading universities to set the most “challenging” benchmarks.

This week, it emerged that the number of private school pupils admitted to Cambridge had dropped by 18 per cent to 892 in just 12 months as the proportion of state-educated entrants rocketed to a 30-year high.

Speaking ahead of HMC’s annual conference in Belfast next week, Dr Ray said: “Without positive discrimination, we wouldn’t have had the huge advances we’ve had on the disabled front. But actually, in their case, they’ve been trying to change attitudes.

"Here, it’s not attitudes that are being suggested, it’s just straightforward favouring of those who’ve not been able to perform as well, due to the failings of the state sector, on the whole.”

He insisted there was “no evidence” that independently-educated pupils had so far been systematically denied places by the new admissions rules.

But he said the system of “positive discrimination” was inadequate when it came to properly differentiating between pupils.

Dr Ray said it struggled to give credit to teenagers on full bursaries at his private school “where reading books in the home is not part of the culture [and] where no-one else in the family has been to university”.

He also said that targets to increase state school admissions risked giving unfair advantages to those educated at highly-selective grammar schools or teenagers from state comprehensives who receive private tuition in the evenings and weekends.

“The tutoring industry is huge, not just for 11-plus but for GCSE and A-level, and I don’t understand or see how any system, however fleet of foot or focused, can actually get to that level of scrutiny," he said. "Would you actually ask your child to declare on his UCAS form that he had been tutored?

In separate comments, Dr Ray also criticised politicians who repeatedly attack private schools for failing to do enough to justify their charitable status.

This summer, Alan Milburn, the Coalition’s social mobility tsar and former Labour cabinet minister, said schools had to do more than simply opening their playing fields.

Dr Ray said: “It is a typical misrepresentation of the independent sector, hoping to gain a political advantage. I understand why politicians feel the need to do that but, of course, if they entered such answers on examination scripts they would be quite fairly be graded fail.”


Sunday, September 30, 2012

New Contract Earns Chicago Schools 2nd Credit Downgrade – In One Quarter

Sound financial management clearly wasn’t a concern to any party involved in the recent contract negotiations in Chicago Public Schools.

They were warned that new labor expenses might result in a credit downgrade for the financially-strapped school district, and they chose to ignore it.

Now it has comes to pass. The credit rating agency Moody’s has downgraded the school district for the second time in one quarter.

Moody’s wrote:

“The negative outlook reflects the school district's budgeted depletion of reserves to fund ongoing operations in fiscal 2013; the moderate additional unbudgeted salary costs of labor contract negotiations, which have not yet been ratified by CTU; an estimated $1 billion budget deficit for fiscal 2014; and the sizable increase in pension contributions following a three-year relief period. Significant budget adjustments will be necessary, but the demonstrated power of collective bargaining suggests that future budget controls may be difficult for the district to implement.”

Chalk one up for the Chicago Teachers Union. It’s insistence on pressing for higher wages at a time when the district could not afford it has pushed CPS even closer to financial collapse. And Mayor Rahm Emanuel doesn’t deserve a pass. He didn’t have the guts to stand up to the union, and now schoolchildren and taxpayers will pay.

The downgrade will, of course, make it more expensive for the school district to borrow money, complicating an already messy financial situation.

As has previously stated, it’s baffling how a business-savvy Board of Education could seemingly check its brains at the negotiating room door. How could people who run successful multi-national corporations allow such poor management of taxpayer resources? “The negative outlook reflects our view that the district will be hard-pressed to make the budget adjustments necessary to close an estimated $1 billion budget gap for fiscal 2014. In particular, the duration of the recent CTU strike demonstrates that labor issues may continue to be a ratings factor,” Moody’s wrote.

A word to the wise in Illinois, and particularly Chicago: Look at your neighbors to the north in Wisconsin. They solved the collective bargaining problem, and their schools are getting by just fine.


Look Out For Eroding of Parental Authority

It’s been an eventful week at the intersection of parenting and politics, that busy corner where decision-making often is affected by the onslaught of traffic from social engineers, liberal educators, public health experts, and civil rights activists who know better than parents what’s best for their kids.

Several news stories seem to indicate that America’s moms and dads are losing ground in the effort to raise their children as they see fit. To wit:

In Rhode Island, the Cranston school district announced it was banning father-daughter and mother-son events because a complaint from the American Civil Liberties Union indicated they violate state law. The civil rights group filed on behalf of a single mother who said her daughter suffered discrimination because she doesn’t have a daddy with whom she can attend the daddy-daughter dance.

“This is 2012 and [public schools] should not be in the business of fostering blatant gender stereotypes,” Steven Brown of the Rhode Island ACLU was reported to have said.

Take that, parents.

In nearby New York City, the public school system quietly launched a pilot program in 13 schools called CATCH, or Connecting Adolescents To Comprehensive Healthcare. This progressive health care initiative has schools distributing abortifacient drugs — also known as “morning-after pills” — along with the free condoms they already hand out to any student who wants them, no questions asked.

Parents learned of the program through a letter advising them they could opt their students out of the program. According to an article at, Deborah Kaplan, assistant commissioner at the city health department’s Bureau of Maternal, Infant and Reproductive Health, said, “We wanted to make sure young people who are sexually active have easy access to contraceptive services and general reproductive health services.”

This is because, Ms. Kaplan said, “In any given year, there are about 7,000 pregnancies to girls ages 15 to 17 in New York City, about 90 percent of those are unintended.”

Obviously, since NYPS is trying to solve such a serious problem, undermining the rights of parents to know about the prescriptions their children are taking is not relevant.

Meanwhile, in faraway La Porte, Texas, stay-at-home mom Tammy Cooper was arrested and held in jail for 18 hours overnight for neglectful parenting based on the complaint of a neighbor. Ms. Cooper’s children had been riding motorized scooters in front of their home (situated on a cul-de-sac). She claims to have been watching them from a lawn chair.

Charges against Ms. Cooper were dropped. Not surprisingly, she is suing the city’s police department, the arresting officers and her neighbor.

What do these seemingly unrelated stories have in common? If, like me, you read the news for evidence of eroding parental authority, quite a lot.

The rights of parents to engage in activities they choose for their children, such as a daddy-daughter dance, are under attack by the purveyors of politically correct social policy. Now, an ACLU lawyer is deciding what traditions — or as he calls them, “gender stereotypes” — may be permitted for other people’s children.

(Good luck to the parents who came together to ask the school board to recommend a change in state law that will allow a daddy-daughter dance exception to anti-discrimination statutes.)

The rights of parents to even know about the medical care being administered to their minor children are completely undone in New York and other states, where “reproductive rights” for teens and preteens now trump the rights of parents.

And that’s not to mention the rights of parents to impart their moral and religious values in raising their children, some of which would influence their decisions with respect to contraception and morning-after pills.

Heck, even the right of a mom to decide when and where it is safe for her children to play with certain toys is abridged in America in 2012.

Though, if anyone can stand up for her rights, I’d put my money on a Texas mom named Tammy.  You know what they say: “Don’t mess with Texas.”


History is about stories, not facts

The British PM failed David Letterman’s test, but facts alone are a fool’s way to learn our story

'So, Mr Cameron, where was Magna Carta signed?” There’s no doubt about it: David Letterman was trying to wrong-foot the Prime Minister when he asked this on live television. What the PM should have answered was: “At the bottom. Hah!”

But if someone asked you where the Magna Carta was signed, what would you say? Runnymede? Young readers who are familiar with my Horrible Histories series may come up with a different (and surprising) answer. We’ll come to that later.

First, it’s worth posing this question: what is the point of history tests? If education is about preparing us for “life”, then knowing that Magna Carta was signed at Runnymede doesn’t really pay the gas bill, does it? Knowing that the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066 doesn’t improve your parenting competence, your ability to cook, your proficiency in driving or any of the other essential skills you need to survive these days.

A Tory politician once snorted at me: “In history teaching, all that matters are facts, facts, facts.” He had no idea that he was echoing Charles Dickens’s Mr Gradgrind in Hard Times: “Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life.” But Mr Gradgrind is a parody – an appalling, pompous and preposterous dimwit. And I’m afraid that Mr Tory Politician is a very senior one. This gentleman had been a minister for education at the time when the National Curriculum was evolving. Mr Gradgrind is a comical, fictional character; Mr Gradgrind in charge of our schools isn’t funny at all.

Newspapers, too, get hot under the collar about facts. “Only one 18-year-old in 10 can name a single Victorian prime minister,” railed one report recently, though it didn’t explain why knowing dead prime ministers matters. The story quoted an indignant Welsh professor, who blustered: “Levels of ignorance among the young are an outrage that should be intolerable.” He went on: “One student thought Martin Luther was an American civil rights leader!” (He was, but we’ll let that one pass.)

Now David Cameron has been sandbagged by a smug, devious US interviewer. “Who wrote Rule Britannia?” Do you know, and would it qualify you to run the country? I didn’t know till I read the answer. And I have instantly forgotten it. Does that earn me the derision heaped on the PM? He “suffers a history failure”, said one headline yesterday. A failure? He wasn’t even allowed to phone a friend.

I’m not offering Mr Cameron my sympathy – he is well paid to play the buffoon on American TV. The trouble is that the US public will tar you and me with the same brush. “Gee, those Limeys are so ignorant,” they’ll say. (I think they talk like that.) So thanks for nothing, Mr Cameron.

Apart from high-ranking politicians, who needs facts? History teachers today claim to teach “understanding” as well as facts, facts, facts. But understanding of “what”, exactly? When I trained as a professional actor my drama tutor had a mantra. He said: “The aim of drama is to answer one question, and one question alone: why do people behave the way they do?”

For “drama” read “history”. The joy of history is like the joy of reading fiction – stories about people. The way they behaved is a model of how we could behave now.

Here’s an example. At the moment I’m looking into the story of a man called Harry Watts from Sunderland – a forgotten hero who died 100 years ago. Last winter, a fire service crew refused to wade into an icy lake to reach a man because health and safety rules said that they shouldn’t if the water came over their knees.

Harry Watts rescued 40 people from drowning, by jumping into cold and filthy rivers around the world. If I walk by the River Wear tomorrow and see someone struggling in the water, where do I turn to decide what to do? The answer is history. What would Harry Watts have done? History provides role models and prompts the great question, “Who am I?”

Horrible Histories, meanwhile, show how real people behaved under trauma. So the reader can ask, “How would I behave?” and “Who am I?” in a different sense.

Who wrote Rule Britannia? Who cares? He’s dead and it’s a nasty, xenophobic, outdated rant anyway. (A bit like Star Spangled Banner, Mr Letterman. Remind me: who wrote that?)

So: where did King John sign the Magna Carta? Glad you asked. King John didn’t sign the Magna Carta. Historians say he probably couldn’t write – the idle bloke had clerks to do that sort of boring stuff. King John placed his seal on it. On behalf of my fellow immature Britons (my readers) can I just say, “Nurr-nurr, Mr Letterman”?